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Ultimate Hey Kids! Comics!

Maybe the coolest thing about Marvel's "Ultimate" line this week is that each and every issue comes with a built-in acetate bag on the cover. Perhaps no more than a micron thick, it's sort of like The Legion of Super-Heroes' trans-suits, though we haven't yet done any deep space testing.

Okay. In truth, I have no idea why Marvel switched cover stock for the line, but the result may take you aback a bit. Slightly stronger than cellulose, the stock makes for a nice shiny look, but may disintegrate if exposed to strong light. Luckily, this column is written under fluorescents.

Under that shiny wrapping lies a consistently strong batch of books. So if these titles do evaporate like a vampire at sunrise, buying the trade collections won't be so painful.

Ultimate Daredevil/Elektra #2
writer: Greg Rucka
artists: Salvador Larroca and Danny Miki

Fifteen or so years ago, Stan Lee complained that actually blindfolding Daredevil as part of his costume would make absolutely no sense. Which is, of course, why in his one live-action television appearance (played by Rex Smith), Hollywood gave Daredevil a mask that had no eye-holes.

It's worth mentioning this bit of history because Larroca and Miki pay homage to that outfit in their Ultimate version of the character. Though we know from the cover that eventually Matt Murdock will wear the more conventional red costume, he dresses all in black for an early rooftop rendezvous with crime. And yes, he wears a blindfold.

Both he and the girl he has grown to love, Elektra, go to the same place to avenge the rape of a mutual friend. Elektra gets there first, barely containing her rage. It's a nice contrast to the cool assassin the years have built in the Marvel Universe, and probably much more like the upcoming movie incarnation, which seems to be the point of this mini-series, after all.

By moving these heroes back in time, Rucka has a chance to build a more reasonable version of their attraction. Somehow the coincidences of these two meeting make more sense. While Elektra may have lost some of her exoticness by becoming a native New Yorker, she has become a more apt girlfriend for the son of Battling Jack Murdock, and her descent into the role of hired assassin may become more tragic.

The combination of Udon Studios' coloring with Miki's inking produces some stunning results. Each panel feels like a still from an animated series, lending it life. Of course, if the movie does well, such a series is only a matter of time.


Ultimate Spider-Man #32
writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artists: Mark Bagley and Art Thibert

Not only has Bendis bowed to pop culture expectations and reversed the order of Peter Parker's romances, he also managed to work in the recent decree that it's all too much for Mary Jane.

Because she's only 16 this time around, it works. This isn't a move that feels like editorial decree; it's a girl being scared of being scared. She even explains it reasonably. Loving a superhero would come with a lot of mixed emotions. Maybe she can work it through, maybe she can't. But at least she didn't wait until the two had been happily married for several years to decide that she needs some time to figure it out.

In a nod to the Lee-Ditko years, the dual Spider-Men storyline comes down to "Just a Guy," though probably not named Joe. Much of the Ultimate line has done a good job so far of depicting superheroes as subject to the same public whimsy as any other celebrities. Trust is day-by-day, and it remains to be seen if, even though innocent in the first place, Peter regains the confidence of the police.

And then there's Gwen Stacy. The interaction among her, Aunt May, and Peter feels so real and so awkward. We know Gwen's a better person than her peers have assumed. Maybe that's just history talking, but Bendis has a good handle on the concept that kids can be good but still act pretty obnoxious.

Next issue we get to meet Ultimate Venom, and somehow I get the feeling that Bendis will get me to actually like the character. Though I treasure my talking Venom figure that threatens to eat my brain, he's long since gone past cool.


Ultimate War #1
writer: Mark Millar
artists: Chris Bachalo and Tim Townsend

It's a shame that The Ultimates is a little behind schedule, because a few plot elements taken for granted here have not yet occurred in that book. Clearly, Jan will recover from the savage beating she took at the hands of Hank Pym. And the AWOL Captain America will return to lead the Ultimates against the rising tide of the Magneto Menace (sounds like an unpublished Doc Savage novel).

But what of the X-Men? This title leaps directly out of the events of the most recent issue of Ultimate X-Men, with the Brotherhood of Mutants having lured The Beast into a sexual trap involving The Blob (eww and double eww) in order to find Magneto. It worked, and now life on Earth as we know it is in peril.

Most of this issue takes place from the point of view of Nick Fury and his howling Ultimates, scrambling to get up to speed as to just what the heck has happened. The Brotherhood has blown up the Brooklyn Bridge, and Millar pulls no punches in showing us the human consequences of such a tragedy. It's the little touch of a Barney tape that puts it over the edge.

In Millar's world, we can't escape the victims of violence. And though he seems to be constantly injecting this view into his comics, he may be right. The realities of modern life should not allow us to escape into a fantasy world where monuments blow up cleanly and casualty-free. Comics are make-believe, but within these pages, it shouldn't just be a game.

And so story-wise, this has me involved, though it's still not a book appropriate for children. The art is decent, but Chris Bachalo just doesn't feel quite right for this story. He can draw action, but his pencils are normally a little softer and more organic than he's allowed to be here. Townsend's inks add a grittiness that's at odds with Bachalo, and the penciller seems to have compensated by making everybody into, literally, blockheads.

Anyone coming into this book from either the art of Andy Kubert or Bryan Hitch may find it jarring. Hopefully, Bachalo will regain his stride before it becomes annoying.


Hey, if you lick the covers, they dissolve just like rice paper candy!

Derek McCaw


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